In Travel

The US Ski Town Celebrities Want To Keep A Secret

You go to Aspen to be seen, and you come to Telluride to hang out. Or so goes the common colloquialism, vaguely teasing the difference between two of Colorado’s most historic mining-turned-ski towns.

The contentious phrase, uttered by those familiar with both, obviously favours Telluride’s folksy atmosphere and relative obscurity. As it turns out, so do the billionaires who want to keep it a secret.

Compared to Aspen’s considerable world renown as a powdery playground for the rich and famous, the box canyon town of Telluride, which rests amongst the majestic San Juan Mountains 8,750 feet above sea level, is decidedly low-key.

So unassuming in fact that, much like Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Telluride has become somewhat of a beacon of tranquility for the ludicrously wealthy. And any ostentation associated with that kind of money is tempered by an endearing communal spirit. The kind that has everyone on equal footing, no matter what they’re there for, or how many acres of coveted mountain space they own.

“The people here have really chosen to be here, because they have fallen in love with it”, says Tom Watkinson of Visit Telluride, speaking on the passion that sweeps the town each day. “Most people who now live in Telluride either came on vacation, or to visit a friend, and couldn’t bring themselves to leave.”

That’s certainly understandable. And it’s easy to see why Telluride homeowners include Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Cruise, singer Jewel, Darryl Hannah, Kelly Ripa, and even Oprah Winfrey.

The latter has especially become known as a local, seeing as in 2016 she famously purchased 60 acres in Telluride’s twin-town of Mountain Village (more on that below), and then brought a nearby $14 million property listed by tech entrepreneur Bob Wall, so she could still live in Telluride while the bigger property was being built.

Image: Daniel Ribar / Unsplash

Elsewhere, legendary designer Ralph Lauren lays dominion over his very own ranch. Just outside of Telluride, the more than 16,000-acre property is made up of various cabins, barns and guesthouses. Lauren himself, who today is worth around $6.3 billion, was once quoted claiming that the move to Telluride “was about a life that would be different, that would be freer”.

The privacy is what attracts the stars; a surprise, given Telluride is known as one of the most festive towns in the entire country. Each summer, the ridiculously picturesque canyon hosts a festival – whether it be for music, food, art, or architecture – every single weekend.

Perhaps Telluride’s most famous event, aside from popular Telluride Jazz and the craft-loving Blues & Brews, is the iconic Telluride Film Festival. Considered one of the best in the world, the consistently prescient predictor of future Oscar winners is one of the few yearly moments where Hollywood elite and the general public come together on equal footing to pay tribute to the art of movie-making, without the red carpets. Needless to say, tickets sell out lightning fast.


Adventure isn’t seasonal in Telluride. There’s plenty to do year-round, whether the wildflowers are beckoning your next biking expedition, or the layers of snow cake the San Juans between what is widely considered the most diverse ski terrain in North America. But even without the great outdoors, Telluride is still a vehement winner.

Telluride itself is really two towns at different elevations. First, you’ve got Telluride proper with its pristine Old West charm and preserved Victorian architecture, where Butch Cassidy robbed his very first bank and historians claim the world’s first street lit with alternating current electricity.

Second, there’s Mountain Village, an ultra-modern and purpose-built destination carved in the mold of European-indebted ski towns like Whistler, where luxury hotels and top-end restaurants are easily accessed by ski-in, ski-out slopes.


Those visiting would be most wise to book a room at the sophisticated Lumiere, Mountain Village’s most intimate luxury lodging. Or, for anyone wanting to stay in Telluride proper, there’s Element 52. Both are equally convenient options, seeing as Telluride proper and Mountain Village are easily connected by a free 20-year-old gondola, the only public transportation system of its kind in North America, that runs until midnight.

Aside from flying between towns in pitch black after a few Old Fashioneds at upscale dining institution – and alpenglow essential – Allred’s, or a show at historic Sheridan Opera House, there’s plenty to do around town throughout the day.

Anyone keen to sample locally made drinks has the Telluride Distilling tasting room, home to a Gold Medal-winning Peppermint Schnapps, and stalwart Telluride Brewing Co. at their disposal.


Those leaning towards unique outdoor activities can choose from snowmobiling through an old ghost town with Telluride Outfitters, taking a shot at helicopter skiing with Helitrax, or hiking up to Bridal Veil Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in Colorado.

As for apres ski, on-mountain eateries like Alpino Vino and Bon Vivant are essential for those sticking to the slopes. And in town, Oaks is famous for its BBQ, and newcomer The National has quickly become the most exciting restaurant in town.

Having access to that kind of lifestyle and community, minus the woes of celebrity is understandably attractive for the stars that live there. “No one really cares how much money you make or where you’re from,” says Watkinson. “They’re just excited for you to be here.”

“Telluride becomes everyone’s favourite place, once they find it.”

(All images unless specified: Visit Telluride / supplied) 

Published 10 March, 2020